Expecting and Eventing: You, Your Horse, and Morning Sickness

Unsolicited advice for surviving the first trimester and still getting your jump on.

Horse Nation Lorraine Jackson

“I discovered that it’s totally possible to puke off the side of your horse and keep riding,” were the sage and stalwart words of my eventing trainer to me one afternoon when I came to the barn looking especially “maternal and glowing”.

Yup. That was me.

Yup. That was me.

I had been doing relatively well with morning sickness up to a point in my pregnancy, but her words were nonetheless encouraging as they can only be between crazy eventers.  I was always a little bit queasy, but rarely full-on pukey. I had continued to comfortably ride for several weeks, and Itxa and I were still progressing through an incredibly mild Utah winter. I considered myself extremely lucky that all the little tricks of crackers at night, ginger tea in the morning, and a barrage of constant starchy snacking allowed me to live a reasonably normal life at home, work and at the barn.

But every once in awhile, there were days where absolutely everything fell apart. I’m not in the business of giving pregnancy advice because, well, at this point it’s still up in the air as to whether or not I will actually survive my first one, and also because I’ve learned that every pregnancy is different. But in case a nice horsewoman out there goes looking to Google like I did and turns up rather empty-handed, they’ll have at least one person’s perspective on surviving this weird chapter of your riding career.

10 Tips for First Trimester Barn Survival

  1. “It’s totally possible to puke off the side of your horse and keep riding.” (Credit to Lani Homan-Taylor for this gem.) If you want to puke and keep riding, you can, and you’re not doing anything inhumane or especially dangerous by doing so. You’re just crazy, which is fine. You are welcome here. And if you want to puke and get off, you can do that and not apologize, because being pregnant is HARD.
  2. Listen to your body. Some days I got on and whatever hormones, nausea or dizziness I was feeling would float away in the first three steps of a trot, and the very next day, that same trot would trigger all the things that it previously cured. Your hormones are EVERYWHERE right now, and what works one day may not work the next. As long as you’re prepared for that variable, I think it’s easier to accept.
  3. Change positions slowly. Because your body is making tons of extra blood right now, you’re more prone to dizziness and blood pressure issues (even full-blown vertigo, I discovered!) And it wasn’t the jumping that would set me off; it was bending over to pick out hooves and then coming upright too quickly, or trying to tighten my girth from the saddle. Weird twisting bending things that you do ALL THE TIME at the barn can mess with your brain. But if you do these things thoughtfully and slowly, you can prevent the worst of them.
  4. Consider telling your trainer/riding buddies that you’re pregnant now. This is a personal one, and everyone has different feelings about when and how to announce these things, but from a safety perspective, it’s something you may want to consider doing early, and for me, having a trusted confidante at the barn was comforting and helpful in those early weeks. (And if something had ever happened, like a fall, I knew my coach would have the information she needed to get me help.)
  5. Snacks are the best. Never go to the barn without a mouse/dog/cat-proof container full of goodies. (I was obsessed with salt and citrus early on, so salty almonds and oranges were with me often.) We all know 3-4 hours can go by at the barn in a flash, and the empty-stomach queasiness is much harder to stop than it is to prevent.
  6. Fluids are pretty great, too. Even though my first trimester was in the dead of winter and I was feeling no ill effects of the sun or heat, I was always on the brink of dehydration. Remember, I didn’t puke that much, it’s just that your body needs all the water it can get. For your burgeoning fetus, for your blood pressure, and for your kidneys (and all that super important stuff attached to your kidneys), drink at least 120 ounces of water a day. ICE COLD water for some reason seems to taste better when you’re queasy, so keep a cooler in your trunk if your barn doesn’t have a fridge. (Also, if you hate straight water, I kept a V8 splash in the cooler and would mix this 1:4 with my water so it was faintly sweet.)
  7. No, your horse probably doesn’t know you’re pregnant. I have read some really sweet things online about how people felt like their horses knew even before they did, or their horse was suddenly more gentle and respectful of their space when they were pregnant. If that ends up being your experience, that’s awesome! It did not go that way for me. I don’t hold that against my mare one bit; she’s a horse with her own priorities and agenda, and it’s not her job to be responsible for my health, or to alter her behavior to match my personal choices in this case.
  8. Don’t be afraid to sweat. There are SO MANY articles out there that suggest not lifting more than 15 lbs for the whole 40 weeks of pregnancy – I even found one that specifically forbid the use of shovels or wheelbarrows! But notably, none of these articles link to any reliable medical study, and that’s primarily been because it’s a very hard topic to study. I’m not a doctor, so I won’t dare to make a recommendation, but here is a really excellent article on pregnancy and exertion that I think every hardworking horsewoman in foal would appreciate. It made me feel a lot better about continuing to work hard when I felt well enough to do so.
  9. Soak in the good days, or just good minutes. Even though you’re sick, hormonal, maybe stressed or scared, try to capture one good moment out of every day you spend at the barn now. I keep a desk calendar with my tack where I record my horse’s daily activities (training, supplements, turnout, etc.), and when I got pregnant, I started adding a daily note for myself, too. Sometimes it’s “ran up the hill without stopping” or “barn cat caught a mouse, dog finished it off”; just silly little notes that reminded me of the good times at the barn. I needed the reminder then, and I know I’ll need it again.
  10. Katy Perry’s “Roar”. It was pretty much written to get you through this moment, girlfriend. Don’t be ashamed.

Go Riding. (In my honor, since I can’t.)

Lorraine has been a regular contributor to Horse Nation since its inception in 2012. Her non-horsey but seriously awesome husband Dan, her 5-year-old BLM mare Itxa, Australian Shepherd Rev, and stupid cat Jeoffrey live in the beautiful Rocky Mountains of Utah. They are stoked to invite another human into the Zoo in July, 2015. And because she gets this a lot, her horse’s name is pronounced EEE-chah, and yes, horse show announcers and organizers can and should hate her for her horse-naming hubris.

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